LCI (L) in 1/76...
...the Milicast kit built, a Landing Craft Infantry, Large.
It is several years since I built this resin kit from Milicast, featuring a 1/76 scale model of the Landing Craft Infantry (Large). It is finished in the markings of vessel number 299, one which did feature in some rare colour photos when it took part in the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944. Thanks to the use of an image editing software, in my case that is PaintShop Pro, photos of the model can be set into a real sea background.
The Milicast kit
When you first see the Milicast kit box you can be forgiven for wondering how a long-hulled model can fit in a short brown cardboard box. Well the answer is simple enough, because the main waterline hull is made up from four, quite large castings, which need to be cleaned up a little, and then fitted together. Shrinkage in the resin casting process can mean the need for a little filler and then sanding flush, and getting it as level as you can. Actually I found this was not difficult, and the four sections went together rather well, with only a minimum of filler and sanding needed. In many ways this is, of course, a similar method of prefabrication as was used for building the real thing.
While the assembled hull is on one side, it leaves you the chance to explore what else is in the box awaiting construction. There are a number of poly bags which contain the various groups of parts, plus a large photo etched brass sheet with additional parts, plus a full sheet of waterslide transfers, produced by Aleran in the USA, for which Milicast is the main UK dealer. There are optional conning towers, so you can have either the lower British style bridge or the taller US Navy type. One complete bag contains a series of two bench seats, which were intended for use by the troops on board, but in practice these were rarely used on operations, so may be left off. Although they could add some additional interest to the finished model, they are not apparent in most of the reference photos I have looked at, so I left them off.
The instruction booklet has written instructions, along with assembly sketches to guide you and this has been prepared by Danny Taylor (of Dan Taylor Modelworks), who mastered the model, and very good they are too. Add to this three, colour printed A4 sheets to show side views of six alternatives for camouflage and markings, plus the last sheet with a plan view to indicate the positioning for all the side rail stanchions and cleats.
Construction is shown as a logical sequence, and gives you options on the low UK or higher US style bridge, UK or US style ventilators, early or late type infantry landing ramps, the fitting of seats as already mentioned, and a choice of style for the mountings on the life rafts fitted to either side of the deck house. My own choice was not to fit the seats, and to go for the low UK type bridge and the more elaborate fittings for the life rafts.
Once the hull is together, add the deckhouse and your chosen style of bridge, in my case this being the low UK style. The etched brass fret has the supports for the splashguard to fold and fit around the top of the bridge, in the marked positions, and clearly illustrated in the instructions. On top of them go the two main etch brass splashguards themselves. Don't forget, these vessels had an open bridge, a feature still common in ships of the period. Not my idea of fun in foul weather I have to admit. Staying with etched brass, fit the portholes and the two brackets onto either side for the navigation light supports. Within the bridge itself, the binnacle and some pipe work alongside plus a seat on the rear plate are all there is to be fitted. There are some hatches to be fitted at this stage too, and I just advise careful checking on the numbers of the two different sizes and to check the assembly instructions for which ones fit where. They look the same but there are two sizes. Yes, I nearly did make the mistake.
The final part of the main structure is the four sections of the Bulwarks, which fit along the troop space. In a number of photos you can see this area filled with kit, such as bicycles, for the troops carried. Make sure you check which one goes where! Just one has a couple of lockers moulded integrally, and these had the only examples of air bubbles I found anywhere in the kit. I filled these with Green Stuff and before fitting them. At the same time add the forward etched ladder, plus some hatches with their small, etched brass hand wheels.
The LCI(L) had four 20mm Oerlikon gun positions. One forward at the bow, one on top of the deckhouse and two more on the after deck. The positions are clearly marked on the deck casting, to which you fit the etched brass circular shields. Heat the etched brass sheet in a flame (I use a ring on the gas cooker in the kitchen) and then plunge it into cold water to cool it and then allow it to dry it off. This annealing process doesn't harm the brass in any way, but it does take the spring out of it and so it stays where you form it, in this case into a smooth round curve. I used a piece of dowel to rub along the brass while it sits on a cutting mat and the softer annealed brass has enough give in it to help form the curve. As the part gets to the correct diameter you can glue it into place on the deck and find that super glue will hold it around the ridge that locates it to he deck. As the brass has no tension, it stays where you put it. I hope Ive described that process all right, but it certainly works for me.
The Oerlikon guns are little works of art in their own right. The main parts are resin; the pedestal, the gun cradle, the gun itself, magazine, and shoulder brackets, while the hand wheel on the pedestal, the gun shield and supports plus the ring sight are all etched brass. I did leave the should brackets off one gun, as I wanted to fit one of the gunners from a set of excellent resin cast figures that Milicast do separately. Once the guns are made up, they are fixed into position within their gun tubs. The ammo bins and spare barrel boxes are fitted using the drawing which has measurements to guide you, though these are not too strict as they varied a fair bit from ship to ship.
Since the release of the LCI(L) kit, the 20mm Oerlikon gun, including the pedestal mount and a resin version of the gun shield, has been released into the Milicast range of accessory sets. This, plus the gun crew set could make an interesting little scene by itself.
The whole design of the LCI(L), along with other types of landing craft, is that the weight is mainly at the back, giving a deeper draught at the rear and a shallower draught at the bow, where you want to run it up onto the beach. The next trick, of course, is to get back out to sea again. To assist with this a large stern anchor is fitted, which was dropped on the final run in to the landing. Once the troops disembarked, then the rear winch would pull on that anchor and so pull the craft back off the beach and into deeper water. This, along with the guard rails that help keep the winch cable away from the propellers that lurk below, are resin castings which fit neatly into place. The winch is made up, adding a piece of plastic rod and an etched brass hand wheel. Use some twine as the hawser from the winch onto the anchor itself. Some smoke floats are also included to be mounted on the stern, near the winch.
Bow and Ramp fittings
The bow section has some interesting shapes to it, and has the rollers for launching the landing ramps on each side, plus what is known as the Cathead, which held the tackle for launching the ramps. The instructions advise you to remove the tackle if the cathead is in the stowed position, but some photos Ive seen also show them left in place, so make your own choice. There is also a smaller bow anchor to be fitted here, but I left this off until the last minute, as the two side arms are very fine and fragile, and would easily break off while you handled the model during construction. The ramps themselves were straightforward enough. Drill the sides to fit the handrail stanchions and fit the underside hooks at the fore end. These fit onto the retaining bar at the forward edge of the hull, to support the ramp when it is deployed.
Now, I was pleased to get his done, but I have to admit that some rather bad language was heard from time to time as I went about this particular little task of assembling the side rails. The instructions suggest using 3amp fuse wire for the rails on the stanchions. I used a fine beading wire, bought in a local craft shop that works well in many ways. It looks fine enough for scale, and it glues in easily enough with super glue. Once the wire is fitted, it also adds strength for the fine resin support stanchions, but there are two potential howevers. Firstly, it didn't fix as straight as it could, but looking at photos, while some show them as quite taught, others show them slack and uneven, as Id ended up with. In that sense I rather like the well used look it gives.
The difficulty in fitting the wire, and getting it as taught as possible through the very, very fine resin support hoops meant a number of them broke away while I was fitting it. Hence the outbursts of bad language! Naturally, once you have gone through this and finished, you do find an alternative (that I had missed), which in retrospect I would have used. This was some very fine Microrod, by Slaters, which I found on the SB Models stand at Trucks and Tracks. I did use this for the wire stays on the mast, and I am happy with the end result. If I did another, Id use that for the ships rails as well.
Painting and finishing
Once everything was assembled, and all the handrails fitted, the model was ready for painting. A guide is given on the coloured pages in the instructions supplied with the model. The camouflage pattern is pale blue on white, following a standard Admiralty pattern.
As the base colour of the hull is white, I used one of Halfords acrylic primer cans of spray paint for cars, and on this occasion it was white. A couple of coats of the spray primer gave a good even white finish, which I was quite pleased with. Next step was using Humbrol 79 Blue Grey, to do all the horizontal deck surfaces. The pale blue for the camouflage colour patterns was Humbrol 65 Aircraft Blue. The Oerlikon guns were painted Humbrol 53 Gunmetal and other detail fittings in appropriate colours, as given on the instructions. The navigation lights are green (starboard) and red (port) on either side, while the forward and rear-facing lights are silver, representing the basic white lights that these were. Some counter shading was used around many areas, such as doors and the angles behind the bulwarks, using a dark brown ink wash. I do this roughly rather than try to make it too neat, as again it helps with the whole used effect. Not everyone's choice, but it works for me.
Weathering, and what to do, how much, etc., was something that made me think. Looking at photos the LCI(L) were fairly well kept, in the tradition of naval ships, but once in action, the spit and polish went to one side. So my choice was to include some rust and wear, but not to overdo it too much. To do the rust, I used Microbrushes as the main applicator tool, plus some sponge applicators available from pharmacies that are available for make up applicators. I disappointed my teenage daughters that I was buying them for modelling rather than as accessories for them! For the rust, and with the way it has an oily grip to it, I used the rust in one of Tamiya's powder sets (Set C). I was pleased with the result from this. Some wear on the deck was made, but not a lot, as the water at sea would keep it regularly swept clean.
The Aleran transfers made for Milicast have good colour and stick down well. Cut them from the sheet, and trim away excess carrier film, for the ones you need for your chosen ship. They are standard water-slide transfers and I found they went on well. There arent many of them, with the hull numbers being the largest, but they do add something special to the painted hull, with the bright red letters and numbers contrasting well against the white and blue hull.
Finally, I had to consider how to put it on a base and my choice was for a plain base. I did consider trying to do the sea with the ramps down at the landing, but cowardice crept in. The problem is getting the sea to look right and I didnt trust myself to be able to get this done to a point that I would be happy with it. With a project that takes me time to finish, like this one, that would have added yet more time to it, plus given me an element I was not certain Id be happy with. Hence my decision was to leave that for another day.
There are two aspects to the question of crew figures. Firstly, there are no figures supplied in the basic LCI(L) kit itself, but Milicast do have a number of Naval crew sets in their fine range of resin figure sets, including the Oerlikon gun crew. These are really a must, in order to bring the ship alive. The second element again I discovered at Trucks n Tracks, as Milicast have added a British Infantry set, of 13 standing figures, which can go on as the on board troops, plus another set with four more figures plus their bicycles. There are a couple of well known pictures of LCIs with the bicycles stacked on deck, as they prepared for the landings.
I am happy with the style I choose to use for painting figures, though some modellers will spend even longer on them. Once primed I paint the basic uniform, flesh and equipment colours. I used a dark brown ink (from the Coat d'Arms paint range), and applied it with a fine paint brush, around collars and cuffs, pockets, etc, as an outline. On the dark blue naval uniforms I used a black outline and then mixed a lighter shade of the basic dark blue uniform colour to add some highlights. My painting of faces these days, in this scale, is limited to colour for eyes and mouth, but in a simple way as to just get a shaded effect rather than try to paint detailed faces in this tiny size. Not my most impressive of admissions, but maybe I have to own up to age and eyesight beginning to get the better of my patience. I could go further, but it is just my personal choice these days not to get that embroiled or Id never finish anything! What I want is the overall effect of the whole finished model, not to try and find out how perfect I can get the finest details.
Once they were all painted, then it was a case of positioning them around the vessel. There is a conversation between a deck hand near the stern, talking to one of the soldiers, maybe two ex-school mates meeting by chance? Another deck hand on the other side, tasked with sweeping the deck, pauses to watch the troops emerging to prepare for the landing. The senior officer of the landing troops is standing on the bridge with the captain, looking towards their destination. Others are coming on deck to prepare for landing. Another lookout is up in the bows, checking their path while one of his shipmates is climbing up to join him, maybe to prepare to hoist out the landing ramps when they reach the beach. Just one gun crew is prepared for action, though most likely there are only friendly aircraft flying overhead.
The bridge crew are on lookout and one is taking a break to have a cup o char before they reach the run in. Just a couple of the troops are standing protected by the bulwarks, looking forward and pondering on what they are about or what might be lying in wait for them. For me it is all about trying to tell a story, or in this case a number of sub-stories, that a model like this is all about. How must it have felt to be on these craft, heading for who knew what? Seasickness would have added to the natural nervousness while the ships crew did their best to do their own job as best they could.
Overall I can say I thoroughly enjoyed making the model and like the end result. It is something very different to what Id usually make, so it was a real change. My perennial problem is always time with a project of this size, and it has taken me some months to get it all finished to my satisfaction. This is finding time while still preparing material for my monthly column, not forgetting family demands oh, and of course my normal day job! However, an end result is here at last.
The next temptation is to think about doing one of the US versions of the LCI(L), with the taller conning tower, and one of the US Pacific or Mediterranean theatre paint finishes. I've added enough figures to give it some life, but as time goes on, and as I find additional figures to suit, I plan to keep adding troops to it to fill the decks even more.
The other challenge now of course might be the temptation to have a go at an LCT to go alongside it, and others of the smaller craft as well. Actually I have one of the smaller LCM1 done as well, with the exception of the markings. I gather there is a set of Aleran transfers being done for Milicast and they should be available by the time you read this. These will provide for the smaller craft that are already available in the Milicast range. They will be preferable to any attempt of mine to hand paint them, so that will sit on the side until then. When finished, Ill try to put a photo in Small scale Scene to keep you up to date.
On the internet there is a good deal to be found, and for the US Navy there is a historical outline of every vessel, and where you will also find photos of some, plus others that have memories from those who served in these well-used vessels. There is certainly a lot of information readily available for those who want to know more.
Two very useful books are an Arms & Armour Press book that reproduces the wartime handbook produced by the US Navy that listed all the various types and particularly useful is the book by J.D. Ladd, Assault from the Sea 1939-1945, published by David & Charles back in 1976 and I was very grateful for having this very useful reference sitting already on my bookshelf. Not in normal bookshops now, but I'd recommend keeping an eye open for it at second hand bookshops and stalls.
Assault from the Sea 1939-1945, J.D. Ladd. David & Charles. ISBN 0-71536-937-7.
Allied Landing Craft of WW2, published by Arms & Armour Press. ISBN 0-85368-687-4.
(An extended version of this feature was originally published in Military Modelling Magazine in 2008)